Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

August 29, 2014

Tabu, on playing Shahid Kapoor’s mother in Haider: “We had to look like lovers”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Tabu, the versatile star of such films as Maachis, Chandni Bar, Astitva, Maqbool and The Namesake reveals how director Vishal Bhardwaj convinced her to play Shahid Kapoor’s mother in his Hamlet adaptation, Haider. The actress also talks about her long absences from the screen, how she humanizes complex characters, and how the ‘serious actress’ label didn’t allow her to have as much fun as she’d have liked to.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Con job

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:32 pm

August 29, 2014

Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Humaima Malick, Paresh Rawal, Kay Kay Menon, Deepak Tijori

Director: Kunal Deshmukh

I can think of a few things one could do to bide 2 hours and 20 minutes. Like catch reruns of Modern Family on television, speed-read the new Chetan Bhagat bestseller so you don’t feel left out during water-cooler conversations at work, perhaps conquer a few levels of Candy Crush on your phone. Anything but watch the new Emraan Hashmi starrer Raja Natwarlal.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the worst film you’ll see this year, but it is an interesting story told predictably. Just consider the plot: Tired of fleecing unsuspecting folks out of a few thousand rupees, petty conman Raja (Hashmi) sets his sights on a big job, hoping to start a new life with his bar-dancer girlfriend Zia (Pakistani actress Humaima Malick). The plan backfires; his partner Raghav (Deepak Tijori) is killed, and now he’s a wanted man. Left with no choice, he seeks out Yogi (Paresh Rawal), a seasoned crook currently in retirement, to help him avenge his partner’s death by plotting to humiliate and rob his murderer, the shady cricket-obsessed Cape Town billionaire Vardha Yadav (Kay Kay Menon).

Borrowing liberally from the Ocean’s Eleven movies, Khosla Ka Ghosla and Special 26, director Kunal Deshmukh and his writers engage their protagonists in an elaborate con that might have been more thrilling if you had any reason to believe that Raja and Yogi possessed either the means or the smarts to pull it off. Premier league officials are impersonated and a fake auction staged, but it’s never entirely convincing. This is one of those rare films that delivers twists at every turn, yet does it without much flair or genuine surprise.

Neither as entertaining as your average Emraan Hashmi thriller, nor clever enough to engage anyone seeking a deliciously complex caper, Raja Natwarlal is the kind of film that leaves you bored out of your mind. I’m going with a generous two out of five. It won’t give you a migraine, but it’s so banal, you’d probably have more fun doing your laundry instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Gutter rats!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:31 pm

August 29, 2014

Cast: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg & the voices of Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shaloub

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

The question you’ll likely ponder after watching the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is this: Who exactly is it meant for? The 30-something-year-olds who might be nostalgic about reconnecting with characters from their youth? Or kids themselves, unfamiliar with the 80s comic books or the animated TV series but fascinated by the idea of these reptiles as lean, mean fighting machines? It’s an answer director Jonathan Liebesman clearly doesn’t have, which explains the schizophrenic nature of this big-budget, CGI-heavy mess that doesn’t even qualify as a guilty pleasure.

The plot involves our four hard-shelled heroes – named after Renaissance masters – Donatella, Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo leaving their safe haven in the sewer to battle the feared Foot Clan group of criminals and their metal samurai leader Shredder who is planning to unleash a chemical attack on New York. There’s also Megan Fox as April O’Neil, a TV reporter stuck doing puff pieces, who stumbles onto her first ‘real story’ when she discovers the Turtles.

Predictably, there are lots of big 3D explosions and relentless chase sequences. And given that the film is produced by Michael Bay, the editing in the action scenes is so typically frenetic, you can barely tell who is doing what and to whom. What this film might have benefitted from is a lightheartedness that’s sadly missing. Only one scene brought a genuine smile to my face; the Turtles, as their elevator slowly makes its way up to the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper, break into an impromptu musical hit. Instead of infusing the film with more such disarming moments, what we get is one of the Turtles making creepy sexual advances towards Fox’s character.

Bland, unimaginative, and entirely pointless, this is one film that needn’t have been made. I’m going with one-and-a-half out of five for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Stay home and take a nap instead.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

In need of new moves!

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:30 pm

August 29, 2014

Cast: Ryan Guzman, Adam Sevani, Briana Evigan, Alyson Stoner, Stephen Boss

Director: Trish Sie

With Step Up: All In, we’ve arrived at the fifth installment in the dance-movie franchise, although – let’s face it – they really keep making the same movie over and over again. Sure the faces change, and they move from Baltimore to New York to Miami, but the plot seldom deviates from the trusted template: down-on-his-luck dancer nurtures big dreams, yearns to win major competition, learns valuable life-lessons and finds love along the way. These films may be predictable, but hey, who’re we kidding, we go to them for the terrific dance routines.

The new film re-introduces us to Sean (Ryan Guzman), the hero of the last movie. His group, The Mob, isn’t having much luck with their dancing careers in Los Angeles, and decides to head back home to Miami. But Sean stays on, determined to enter a reality dance show in Las Vegas, whose big prize is a three-year booking at Caesar’s Palace. He seeks out Moose (Adam Sevani – remember him from the third film?) who helps Sean put a new team together. Say hello to characters from the previous films, including Andie (Briana Evigan from the second film), an injured dancer with trust issues, who Sean inevitably falls for.

Gone are the days when Hollywood produced bonafide actors with nimble feet: dancing stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Or even Channing Tatum, who broke out in the first Step Up film. The acting in dance movies now is strictly serviceable, and this one is no exception. Guzman is a good-looking kid who fills out a tank-top impressively, but he can barely hold a line. The dialogue is cheesy, and for some reason there’s way too much talking here.

Choreographer-turned-director Trish Sie stages some impressive set-pieces, particularly the two that bookend the movie. There’s a quieter, less flashy one between Sean and Andie at an abandoned theme-park ride set to Bobby Brown’s Every Little Step. But surprisingly, there’s nothing in this movie that stands out for its sheer inventiveness, like that arresting dance number staged in an art gallery in the previous film.

Step Up: All In has a few moments of genuine awe and wonder, but there’s too much plot and relatively lesser dancing this time round, which defeats the very purpose of watching these movies. I’m going with two out of five. This franchise is in urgent need of some new moves.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 22, 2014

Priyanka Chopra: “I didn’t look like Mary Kom, so I decided to make my body like hers”

Filed under: Video Vault — Rajeev @ 11:46 pm

Priyanka Chopra stars as five-time boxing champion Mary Kom in a biopic on the life of the celebrated sports-star, and although the National Award-winning actress looks nothing like the Manipuri pugilist, she doesn’t see that as an impediment to portraying the Olympian. The film, directed by debutant Omang Kumar and produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, traces Mary Kom’s struggle from a poor rice-paddy farmer’s daughter to a national hero. Priyanka trained extensively for the part, and in this interview with Rajeev Masand, she says she wears her bruises like badges of honor.

(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

Cop tale

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

August 22, 2014

Cast: Rani Mukerji, Tahir Bhasin, Anil George, Jisshu Sengupta, Mona Ambegaonkar

Director: Pradeep Sarkar

As movie cops go, Mardaani’s Shivani Shivaji Roy, played by Rani Mukerji, feels closer in spirit to Aamir Khan’s straight-talking Ajay Rathod from Sarfarosh over larger-than-life supermen Chulbul Pandey or Bajirao Singham. This mostly gritty thriller directed by Pradeep Sarkar opens nicely and coasts along smoothly until it threatens to come undone in its final act.

When we’re introduced to our protagonist, a senior Mumbai Crime Branch officer, she’s on her way to nab an elusive criminal. As the police jeep navigates the streets, Shivani makes a quick call to her niece to remind her to finish her homework. It’s throwaway moments like these that give the film a believable texture, and Sarkar creates a fully authentic flesh-and-blood character in Shivani, who comfortably balances her job with her home like most working Indian women.

The real plot kicks in when Shivani starts probing into the disappearance of a poor girl from a homeless shelter…an investigation that leads her to uncover an organized sex trafficking racket. Soon she’s involved in a cat-and-mouse chase with a mysterious drugs-and-prostitution kingpin (Tahir Bhasin), but to reach him she must get through a maze of accomplices.

There is much to admire in Sarkar’s film, from its crisp pacing to the performances of its supporting cast. Anil George (from Miss Lovely) is suitably creepy as the villain’s main man Vakil, but Bhasin is the real find. He’s perfectly cast as the English-speaking, videogame-addicted Breaking Bad fan Karan, who addresses Shivani as “Ma’am” when he speaks to her on the phone. This is not your typical Hindi-movie pimp, and Bhasin plays the part with sly menace.

The camaraderie and the banter between Shivani and the officers in her team ring true, and her lingo – peppered liberally with cusswords – never feels out of step. The film doesn’t linger too much on her marriage, but in one devastating scene we watch as her husband, a doctor (Bengali actor Jisshu Sengupta) becomes a pawn in her clash with the villain.

But Sarkar opts for an entirely different tone in the second half, when Mardaani adopts many of the typical clichés of Bollywood films. There is an exploitative, voyeuristic quality to the scenes in which the kidnapped girls are initiated into the flesh trade. And Shivani has emerged into a one-woman crime-fighter by the time we reach the overblown clunky climax. She’s pretty much Lady Singham at this point. Surprisingly, despite these problems, the film is consistently watchable, and keeps you glued to your seat. Much credit for that must go to Rani Mukerji, who is in terrific form. Investing Shivani with both physical strength and emotional courage, she gives us a hero that’s hard not to root for.

Mardaani is not a perfect film, but it’s better than many of the blockbusters Bollywood churns out regularly. It’s a well-made commercial Hindi film – reasonably short and minus songs – that’s trying to say something. For that I’m going with three out of five. Whatever else, you won’t be bored.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

Power struggle

Filed under: Have you seen this? — Rajeev @ 10:37 pm

When we go the movies, we long for a good story to unfold. It is a rare thing then to come away with the image of one unforgettable character. Katiyabaaz, an excellent documentary on the tangled power struggles in Kanpur in the middle of a deep electricity crisis, gives us one such character in the pint-sized Loha Singh. He is a katiyabaaz – an anti-hero who steals electricity to help out the power-strapped locals of the city.

You watch fascinated as he climbs up poles, bites into electrical wires with his teeth, and does a fix-up job that miraculously turns on lights, whirring fans, and factory machines. There is every chance of electrocution, but Loha Singh only laughs maniacally in the face of death. If Robin Hood comes to mind, hold that thought… Katiyabaaz, like India, is a much more complicated affair.

It is difficult to take sides in this documentary even though directors Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar present two sides of the coin. There is Ritu Maheshwari, the no-nonsense, first female CEO of the government-run KESCO, who decides that the only way to get the power company out of crippling debt is to make defaulters pay up. Chaos follows, and even rioting, when the city is plunged into darkness for days.

Riveting as it is, there is a tinge of sadness attached to the film. A scene of bickering between Loha Singh and his mother is particularly moving, even if it does feel scripted. Another scene at the end of the film, in which Loha Singh must defend what he does to a dismissive drunken uncle, is heartbreaking.

There are moments of pungent hilarity in this movie too, and the Indian Ocean-composed folk rock song Kaanpura lends Katiyabaaz an authentic texture. Throughout the film, Ritu Maheshwari and Loha Singh are pitted against each other, but you see them as two victims who despite their ambition, just can’t seem to rise above the system. And that’s the real villain here – a system that leaves you powerless.

After premiering at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and screening at Tribeca and other festivals, Katiyabaaz comes home to India. You don’t want to miss it; it’s a slice of life that will resonate with you.


Flogging a dead horse

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 10:35 pm

August 22, 2014

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Arnold Schwarznegger, Wesley Snipes, Mel Gibson, Harisson Ford, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer, Jet Li, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz

Director: Patrick Huges

The most impressive stunt in The Expendables 3 is stuffing so many former A-listers in the same frame. After all, how often do you see a film starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarznegger, Mel Gibson, Harisson Ford, Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas? Sadly, there’s not much else that’s particularly exciting about this third installment in the action franchise, which feels monotonous and forgettable despite the combined star-wattage of these grizzled veterans.

The lazy plot limps into motion after Stallone’s Barney Ross and the old gang breaks Doc (Snipes) out of an armored train in the film’s opening set piece. Not long after, Barney discovers that former friend-turned-foe Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), long presumed dead, is alive and kicking and dealing in arms. Determined to go after the former Expendable, but unwilling to risk the lives of his ageing friends, Barney recruits a new set of younger mercenaries to accomplish the mission.

There’s a videogame-like quality to the relentless action in this film; it’s noisy and unending, but also shrewdly bloodless, possibly so the makers could secure a more lenient rating from the censors. All manner of guns and knives are employed to dispatch armies of villains, who, predictably, are such poor shots, they seldom so much as scrape our heroes.

The younger cast – including real-life MMA fighter Ronda Rousey – don’t exactly get a chance to shine in those barely-developed parts. Of the seniors, Ford, playing a cranky CIA boss, looks bored to tears, and Banderas, intended as comic relief, misfires as a way-too-chatty assassin. The only actor who comes out of this mess unscathed is Gibson, who plays the bad guy with a menacing grin and a sly glint that gives the film some vim. But it’s the interplay between the actors that remains the main draw of these films, and director Patrick Hughes squeezes in a few good bits, including the tentative relationship between Jason Statham and Snipes’ characters.

Alas, these are small mercies in a disappointing film that might have benefitted from investing more in script rewrites than star salaries. I’m going with a generous two out of five for The Expendables 3. Its nostalgia value aside, this is one noisy bore.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 16, 2014

Sylvester Stallone: “I shot a Bollywood film on the backlot. It was fun”

Filed under: What's new — Rajeev @ 6:17 pm


In this interview with Rajeev Masand, Expendables 3 stars Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Jason Statham reveal why they continue to make action movies despite invariably suffering deadly injuries on every set. 68-year-old Stallone reveals that Statham almost drowned to death while filming The Expendables 3 in Bulgaria when the truck he was driving fell into the Black Sea. The actors admit it’s not always fun, but they’re too old to change now.


(This interview first aired on CNN-IBN)

August 15, 2014

Khaki pride

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:33 pm

August 15, 2014

Cast: Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor, Amole Gupte, Zakir Hussain, Anupam Kher, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sharat Saxena

Director: Rohit Shetty

There isn’t one quiet moment in Rohit Shetty’s Singham Returns. This sequel is an orgy of relentless action, shrill dialoguebaazi, and eardrum-shattering background music. And yet, buried somewhere under all that noise is a well-meaning – although misguided – story about the need for corruption-cleansing in the system.

Ajay Devgan reprises his role as Bajirao Singham, upright cop and dispenser of vigilante justice, now promoted to Deputy Commissioner of Police and relocated from a village on the Goa-Maharashtra border to big bad Mumbai city. Our fearless hero locks horns with a fake godman (a deliciously hammy Amole Gupte) and a crooked neta (Zakir Hussain), when it becomes clear that they’re responsible for the death and humiliation of one of his officers, and for the murder of an Anna Hazare-like figure (Anupam Kher) who’d been spearheading a movement to introduce dynamic and committed young candidates into the political fray.

There isn’t much that’s groundbreaking in the script, but Shetty and Devgan have created a leading man worth rooting for. Singham is steadfast in his intolerance for dishonesty and corruption; in one scene at the start of the film when someone offers him a bribe, he lands a stinging slap on the fellow’s face and this classic line: “Main leta nahin, deta hoon.”

Shetty shrewdly roots this protagonist and the film’s conflict in the real world. He taps into our collective cynicism towards politicians and the system, and gives the ‘aam aadmi’ a platform to vent. So far, so good. What’s disconcerting however, is the film’s suggestion that taking the law into one’s own hands might be the only effective solution to fix things. It’s a dangerous message, and Shetty delivers it via rousing scenes that are designed to elicit applause. Even more dangerous.

What I especially enjoyed in Singham Returns were its stray moments of clever, unexpected humor. Twice our hero takes it on the chin when his girlfriend, and an officer in his team, makes a joke about his age. In another scene, when Gupte’s dhongi Baba rattles off lines from the Bhagwad Gita to him, Singham quotes from the Indian Penal Code in response.

But such moments are few and far between in a sequel that takes itself too seriously, and one that subscribes to the “big is better” ethic of filmmaking. So there are more flying cars and bigger explosions, and stunning aerial view shots of action scenes unfolding on the Sea Link. Confrontations between Singham and his rivals are peppered with ‘punchy’ one-liners, and our hero’s signature catchphrase “Aata maajhi satakli” is repeated at least a half-dozen times for effect.

There’s also Kareena Kapoor as Singham’s love interest, in a track that quite frankly feels unnecessary in the larger scheme of things. The usually dependable actress looks lovely, but the film doesn’t require her to so much as break into a sweat to get through her scenes. It’s Ajay Devgan alone, who keeps the film from falling apart, as the plot becomes increasingly facile. He’s in terrific form as the tough cop with a soft heart, and he displays that quality remarkably, particularly in one scene where he’s confronted by the desperate mother of an erring son.

At 2 hours and 22 minutes, Singham Returns feels long and occasionally plodding. There are some nice scenes that inspire police pride, but the predictable story tires you out eventually. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

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